Jay Chaudhry is the founder and CEO of Zscaler, an enterprise cloud security company. He is an innovator and trendsetter who has founded and funded several successful companies, including Zscaler, AirDefense, CipherTrust, CoreHarbor, Air2Web, and SecureIT. Chaudhry’s 25 years of sales, marketing and engineering experience also includes leadership roles at leading companies such as IBM, NCR and Unisys.
Sramana: Jay, let’s get started with an overview of your background. Where do you come from? Where do your entrepreneurial roots come from?
Jay Chaudhry: I have the biggest contrast with where I came from and where I am at. I have seen the Stone Age and I have seen the rocket age in the span of 40 years. I come from a tiny village at the foothills of the Himalayas. There were 800 people in the village where I grew up. Every so often I look back, and I can’t believe the transition that I have been through. We had a village well, no electricity, and we had to self-sustain as a community. We grew out own cotton and made our own clothes. It was a good, simple life. The best thing I learned from that is hard work and honesty. Life is tough, and you have to work very hard.
Sramana: Where did you do your education? How did you navigate your way?
Jay Chaudhry: I did my primary school in my tiny village school. I did my high school in a couple of villages away. I was good at studies. I don’t know why, I guess I just worked hard. I got the number one rank at Himachal state, so based on that I got admission to ITT to do electronics engineering. The change I saw going from my village to the university was bigger for me than coming from India to the U.S.
Once I got there, I found there were a lot of smart kids coming from all over who had really good schooling. As you became part of that group, then you started to realize that there was a wide world out there. Students started talking about going to the U.S. to get a masters. It all worked out pretty well. I was lucky, but I also worked hard. After my bachelors I came to the University of Cincinnati to do my masters. I was lucky to get a research assistance internship and a scholarship. Otherwise, there is no way my family could have paid anything, they had no funds.
Sramana: There are a lot of students who come to the U.S. from India on scholarships. That process works very well.
Jay Chaudhry: Absolutely. One of the interesting challenges is that we did not have money to pay for the fair. One of the scholarships that I got was the Tata scholarship, which paid for some of the early stuff. It worked very well.
Sramana: What happened after the University of Cincinnati?
Jay Chaudhry: I got my masters there in electrical and computer engineering. I got a summer job in Cincinnati with a small startup company that was doing software development. They wrote software packages for nursing homes in the financial management and accounting area. When I graduated, they wanted me to join the company, so I joined them full time. On the side I had enough time so I wanted to learn some management skills. Engineers are blamed for not being good managers. I went back to school in the evening and got another masters degree in industrial engineering management. Once I was finished with that, I also got my MBA from the University of Cincinnati, also in the evening through their part time program.
The small company I was working for an started to take me out for demonstrations of the system. That is when I realized that I had more fun marketing and selling the product than I did sitting in front of the computer writing code. I had a small team of two developers who I oversaw, but I realized that my interest was in sales and marketing, and that is why I pursued my MBA. Once I graduated with that degree, I knew I was ready to go work in a sales or marketing job.